How to recycle existing plants

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A friend who worked in advertising told me that every client wanted cheap, fast, and smart ads. The response from his crew? You can have two out of three: fast and cheap; smart and fast; or, smart and cheap. But not all three.

This has always seemed true to me for gardens too. Instant impact gardens are very expensive and really smart gardens grow over the years. But cheap gardens can certainly be smart, with just a little patience.

Some reliable perennials include salvia, agastache, gaura, and heliotrope.Credit:iStock

There are several ways to minimize the costs of planting a new garden or garden bed. The first is to reuse and recycle what is already in the garden. It’s not just frugal, it’s admirably durable. The practice is also taking off among professional gardeners who are questioning the environmental impact of their work. Instead of designing from a blank slate, they’re looking for ways to conserve whatever plants and materials they can. Landscape architect Jane Irwin recently designed a garden that brought no new plants to the site – and rose to the challenge.

One of my first lockdown projects was to redo my front garden. The new planting was to be very low maintenance as I prefer to spend my gardening time out back; does not require more water than would fall from the sky; and cost me nothing.

So I raided the back garden. Too impatient to bother with growing from cuttings, I scratched begonias, hibiscus, salvia and shrubby fuschia from my list. Hardy, easy to divide plants were the answer. Succulents, agaves and alcantarea contrasted with ‘Diamond Frost’ mossy Euphorbia and ‘Little Ruby’ dark purple Alternathera. Liriope and lomandra added grassy textures, gingers from height. In a year, all the gaps have been filled in and it looks so good that I spend more time in front of it than before.

Only slightly more expensive than doing everything with what you already have is doing everything with seeds. This is the best option for prairie-style gardens and immortelle gardens (sow in fall for a spring show) and for vegetables. If you’re worried about your skills with edibles, focus on vegetables that can be sown directly where you want them to grow rather than in seed trays for later transplanting. The potential list is long and includes beans, beets, carrots, corn, fennel, peas, pumpkin, silver beets and zucchini.

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For native gardens, the spendthrift option is tube plants, which look tiny when they first come in, but are quickly catching up with larger potted plants that look better at the garden center. Perennials are relatively inexpensive when purchased online as small plants and will quickly fill or overfill their space. Some reliable options for Sydney include salvia, agastache, gaura, and heliotrope. The plants sold at the Growing Friends sales in our botanic gardens are also of great value and support the work of the gardens. Smart, cheap, and if you adjust your definition of “soon” to mean around this time next year, pretty quickly too.

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